June 1, 2018

Off-hours? Glenn Kessler lets out a short laugh. “We’re always on call, all the time. He’s always tweeting or what have you.”

Kessler leads the three-member Washington Post fact-checking unit. They put together a database tracking President Trump’s misstatements, which made news itself last month when it documented more than 3,000 of Trump's false or misleading statements since he took office.

As of the latest update Friday morning, it’s 3,251.

Kessler estimates that, at this pace — 6.5 a day, more than 200 a month — the false or misleading statements could hit 10,000 by January 20, 2021.

What sets Trump apart from his predecessors? Two things, says Kessler, who has kept an eye on presidents since Bill Clinton. One, Trump doesn’t seem to have or use the staff to base a statement, even if stretched, on fact. Two, he doesn’t seem to care if he is caught in a misstatement — he just repeats it; in one case, more than 70 times.

Sometimes he'll admit something to millions of Americans on NBC News or on video with Russian officials, such as that he fired FBI director James Comey because of the Russian probe — only to deny it months later and accuse the media of making it up.

"Look, you just tell them and they believe it," Trump once told Billy Bush after Bush pointed out Trump had been inflating the ratings of his reality TV show for years. "That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do."

Kessler almost sounds nostalgic about catching Clinton in a falsehood about the three goals of his administration at the start (they weren’t the three goals Clinton told a crowd years later) or Obama’s ad-lib about janitors stiffed on salaries during the sequester (they weren’t). Both presidents, although ticked at Kessler, never used those phony statements again, he says.

The rise of Twitter and sheer volume of Trump’s misstatements can be tiring.

“I had [duty on] Memorial Day, that was a couple of tweets. That was nice,” he says (translation: a light day). “On the days when there is a rally, it can get to be tough. … At the rally in Nashville, there were about 30 things we had to put in the database.”

Senior editors have supported Kessler’s efforts. Salvador Rizzo, formerly an editor at the New York Observer, joined him five months ago. Rizzo was a veteran of years of coverage of former governor Chris Christie at previous jobs at The Star-Ledger and The Record in northern New Jersey. Meg Kelly came over from NPR, and writes as well as produces videos for the database. Those videos regularly top 1 million views, he says.

Kessler recalls the days when the misstatements were nearly evenly divided from a president of one party and congressional leaders of another. Now, Democrats are on the defensive, he says, and many of the problematic statements come from Trump, his Cabinet members or GOP leaders of Congress.

“One of the reasons we started the database of Trump claims was that we wouldn’t have to do the repeat claims,” Kessler says. “But what we've found is that the database takes up an incredible amount of time, and we still have to fact-check all the other stuff. … I’m not happy about it. Divided government is good for fact-checkers.”

How does Kessler keep up? How, and when, does he recharge his batteries? Long vacations, Kessler says. Three-week vacations.

”Come July,” he says, “I will be in Tahiti.”

Quick hits

‘AN EMPATHY PROJECT’: That’s how Amber Hunt of The Cincinnati Enquirer describes “Aftermath,” an eight-episode podcast on what happens to people when the physical wounds of gunshots heal. A partnership between the Enquirer and the non-profit The Trace, “Aftermath” covers the kind of stories news outlets often don’t. “A life didn’t end," says Hunt, who also did the acclaimed podcast “The Accused," of her subjects. “But there’s a decent chance it changed forever. Isn’t that newsworthy, too?” (Your morning columnist, a former police reporter in Cleveland, says yes.) 

TWEET OF THE DAY: A clear-eyed assessment of Puerto Rico vs. Roseanne coverage, via Astead Herndon of The New York Times:

STARTING TODAY: Political reporting vet Amy Walter begins hosting Fridays on the daily public radio show "The Takeaway" by discussing gender politics with Senator Patty Murray of Washington — and the prospects for big change this November. (Tanzina Vega hosts the other four weekdays of the WNYC-PRI co-produced show.)

ELIMINATING JOURNALISTS FROM THE NEWS: News Digest is a popular news app in Japan. Its founder is a 29-year-old with a dream — a robot-run newsroom. As a freshman in college, Katsuhiro Yoneshige realized the problem with Japanese media. As he puts it: “The industry is too heavily staffed and doesn’t make enough money.”

A DOCUMENT RETURN: The New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi salvaged thousands of ISIS internal documents as the extremist group retreated from Mosul. Today she announced that the original documents will be given to the Iraqi Embassy in Washington and that copies that remain with The Times will be digitized. About a dozen organizations volunteered to help in the digitalization effort, said Callimachi, host of the Times podcast "Caliphate." A nonpartisan group will be chosen soon, she added.

RADIOTOPIA PICKS UP ‘ZIG ZAG’: Two WNYC producers, veterans of successful podcasts such as "Note To Self" and "2 Dope Queens," started their own media company. A 12-episode podcast on Radiotopia this summer, "Zig Zag" will follow Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant as they start their company and think through capitalism, journalism and women’s lives.

EXPANDING SINCLAIR: Side deals will make Sinclair Broadcasting’s Trump-friendly coverage available to millions of Americans on stations it doesn’t own, Politico reports. “It borders on regulatory fraud,’’ says former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler.

LOSING STEAM: Facebook used to dominate social media use among teens. No More. YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram triumph, says the Pew Research Center. Related: if you haven't caught Mary Meeker's latest slides, they begin with smartphone market saturation but note that more and more time is spent on those devices (via Recode). 

NAMED: Kathy Kiely, a veteran reporter, editor and educator, will be the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism, effective July 1. Kiely, a journalism lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, has organized events around free speech issues and advocated for journalists who have been jailed or threatened for their work, most notably Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a National Press Club award winner currently being detained by U.S. immigration officials.

HOMECOMING: Kelly Kissel, a 34-year Associated Press veteran and longtime news editor in Little Rock, is leaving the AP to become metro editor of his hometown paper, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Kissel told Connecting editor Paul Stevens that this is his dream job after he realized he couldn't be a jockey. "I was too tall by eighth grade and too heavy by 12th grade.”

WEASEL WORDS: It’s not that grammar that kills headlines, the Economist argues; it’s all the qualifier words and phrases, the tiny trap doors that allow a journalist to escape from a normally headline-grabbing hypothesis. 

THE ROYALS EXPERT (WITH THE FAKE ACCENT): As the royal wedding unfolded, Thomas J. Mace-Archer-Mills, Esq. was on screen to enlighten many on the monarchy. The Wall Street Journal discovered he was really Tommy from New York, from north of Albany, with a quite posh fake accent. Says Comedy Central’s Jim Jeffries Show, where he appeared: “If we had any journalistic standards, I’d imagine we’d be quite upset by this news.” (h/t Nancy Groves)

What we’re reading

A cartoon by Rob Rogers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Used with permission.

Cartoon: Rob Rogers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Used with permission.

WHO WANTS TO HURT THE POOR?: White Americans make up the largest share of Medicaid and food stamp recipients. But other whites, seeking to deprive people of color, are behind the GOP's push to cut America's help to the hungry, sick and poor, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey reports. Recognizing that some cuts will hurt white people, the GOP is moving in some states to add exemptions … for white people, Vox reports. Assignment Desk: Is this happening in your state?

A SPECIAL TONY AWARD: Melody Herzfeld protected 65 of her students as the gunfire went off. She saw her students communicate on the right to stop mass shootings. The 2018 Tony Award honor for theater educators will be given to the Parkland teacher, with $10,000 for a theater education project.

FLOAT ON: The New Jersey realtor lost her sign to the wind and the sea of Hurricane Sandy. Five and a half years later, it showed up — on a French beach, 3,595 miles away.

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